Sunday, August 5, 2018

The girl who fell to earth

It's difficult to explain to my circle of friends and family and co workers what it's like to go off on one of these weekends of doing an ultra race, or crewing or pacing, and then coming home after.  Especially when you come home to just your loyal dogs, and no people to really talk to about your adventure. It almost feels imaginary.  Or I was off on a different planet, consorting with different beings.

"You were going to run how many miles?"  "How long have you known this girl you were going to run 50 miles with?"  "You only ran with her twice before this?"  "You're driving how far?"

So when Rose asked me a week and a half ago if I would pace her for her first 100 mile attempt, I said yes!  Eli was going to be away, and I had been hoping to get away myself for part of the week, so I wasn't making myself crazy with missing him.  Rose herself thought I was crazy, when we were talking about the race an making plans, she kept thanking me.  I told her people have done me some very good turns in the ultra-running community, and I feel like it's just my part to pay some of it forward.

So I had my dog sitter, and I headed two and a half hours north to Lockport to pace a friend in the infamous Beast of Burden, summer version.  The drive was fine (I bought Swedish fish, of course).  I had all my stuff (I hoped).  My phone flatly (but cheerfully) told me when I was approaching my destination, and Rose met me in her car and escorted me through the campground to her cozy home away from home.

The campground was very pretty, but packed.  We drove the requisite five miles per hour past horse-shoe pits, pretty little lakes with ducks, children clad only in diapers or bathing suits, people moseying with dogs; the quintessential family campground.  I remember camping in places like this when I was very young, making ephemeral childhood friends that disappeared into memory like car tail lights in fog.  It was a nice campground, but I guess I've gotten used to the solitude of tent camping in the middle of the woods.  It's not that this was bad at all. Just different.

Parked at the camper, I settled my stuff, and we made a plan for the next day.  Then we curled up on our separate pop out beds, and I thought the campground would be noisy and I wouldn't sleep. The sun had just set, and there were some sounds of voices, and some scampering children once, and a soft crackling of a campfire nearby, and crickets and cicadas, but that was all.  And I slept, pretty well, and when I did wake, it was being too warm or cool that woke me, not noises.

I wanted to give Rose space to get in the zone in the morning, and also, I wanted coffee, so once we woke, I gathered myself and went off in search of coffee and the race start.

The start of the Beast of Burden race in Lockport, at the Widewaters Marina.

The race didn't start until 10am, so the sun was already high and hot!

I found coffee, and it was a very pretty morning, misty and cool, but I knew the temps would rise.  I had told Rose to drink and eat and get some electrolytes in.  I knew I also needed to make sure I ate and kept hydrated.  I was guessing that I wouldn't be pacing Rose until at least 10 or 11 in the evening, so I knew I had to make sure I took care of me, as well as her.

The start line was quiet, and Rose got there right after I did.  Her friend David (who was pacing another friend of Rose's named Rhonda who was running the 50 mile distance)was there as well, and he had brought a canopy tent, which we set up, and we took advantage of the shade.  The sun was already hot.  We got our own little Aid Station area set up with all of our stuff, and the parking lot was very conveniently located, so I backed my forester up to the path where the runners would be coming by, and I had my own portable Aid Station.

Rose -  nervous, but ready to go!

Sunblind and raring to go!
We got her checked in, and she did her final checks and got her bib in place.  I had suggested Leukotape for her feet, to prevent any hotspots and blisters, so we got her feet ready, and we went to the start for the pre-race meeting.  I got to see my friends Rog and Clyde (who were running the 50 miler), and also my friend Shawn, who was crewing and pacing for another runner.  The day was already sizzling, and the runners were off!

Rose starting out with a mix of run and walking - it worked great for her!

So the Beast of Burden is a very flat and exposed race along the Erie Canal.  They run a race in the smoldering heat of August summer, and the bitter chill of New York February winter.  They have 25, 50, and 100 mile distances.  The "loop" is an out and back of 25 miles, so there is 12.5 miles between each of the crew accessible aid stations.  There is also a middle aid station that no crew is allowed to access, but there is also another canal trail access before the aid station that we were using just to check in on our runners through the day.
The map of the course.

As a trail runner, the course has two things that work against me.  It's flat, and it's totally exposed.  Not a lick of shade.  I have heard nightmare stories of this course from friends about chafing, about freezing, about sun burn, about dehydration.  Which is why I have avoided running it like the plague.  But crewing and pacing... that's a different story.  Right?

So Rose and the other runners were off!  I figured I had at least 2.5-3ish hours before Rose arrived at the Middleport aid station 12.5 miles east down the trail.  David said he was going to head to Orangeport (though I would call it Orangeburg for the majority of the day) which was the sneaky-crew-access-point before the No-no zone of Gasport.  Shawn gave me GPS directions, but I wanted to get the lay of the land and maybe find something to eat before I had to meet Rose.

Middleport

This lock bridge raised up via hydraulics.  It went up to let boats pass under it once, and I felt bad for the runners that had to walk up the stairs to cross.

The clouds moved in and provided a tiny bit of relief, occasionally, from the heat.

It was hot.  The sun was relentless.  I doused myself with sunblock early, and reapplied several times.  I offered sunblock to Rose in the morning, but she worried it would effect her ability to sweat.

I made it to Middleport.  Traveling between the two accessible Aid stations and the sneaky pants Orange(burg)port aid stations was easy.  I noted a Tim Hortons, an Tops Grocery store, and several gas stations on my way to Middleport, in case anything was needed.

I found a little Cafe/Deli on the corner, and thought, "Perfect!"  So I checked the time - 10:48.  Plenty of time to eat. I had at least an hour or more before Rose would arrive. They were just setting up the Aid station in a building along the main street (complete with indoor restrooms and a kitchen/running water/ tables with drop bags).  I ordered a chicken wrap and fries and ice water.

I drank 3 waters and sat there an hour before my food was ready.  I try not to be an impatient person.  And if it's only me, I could probably wait forever and not stand up for myself for fear of hurting someone's feelings, but I was really worried my runner would show up and I would be shoving french fries in my face.  I asked for a to-go box, handed her the amount of money to cover the bill, and scootched back outside to stuff my face along the trail and watch for the runners.

David was there, and we sat together and chatted (with my mouth full).   He had gone to Orangeport and said Rose was looking good.  David was lean and mean and an athlete in his own right, but was perfectly happy to chill and talk about dogs and running.   Shawn had been through with his runner and I popped up and helped them out.  I saw Rog coming in not long after, and I hopped up and jogged with him to the aid station.  He was too hot, and pulled off his arm sleeves an asked for scissors and cut off his leg sleeves.  Shawn also helped.  I helped fill his bottle, got him some ice, and schoom, he was off like the flash that he is.  Never, ever believe Roger when he tells you he's out of shape.

Rose wasn't too far behind.  She drank a little, but said she wasn't hungry.  She ate a banana.  I told her she needed to eat and drink more.  She put on her arm sleeves because the sun was bothering her.  She didn't stay long, and was super cheerful.  She was back out to the course.  She said her feet felt great
Rose smiley and feeling good!
 I headed to Orangeport, and I saw a gas station on the way.  I stopped and got some ice and some other stuff (including caffeine for myself).  I got to the sneaky access point and saw Shawn was there (he was riding his bike up and down the canal to access the aid stations and to get a workout before pacing later.  He's a crazy ultra runner as well, remember.).  Just as we were catching up, we saw Rog coming through.  Shawn had some extra water, so gave it to Rog, and Rog was off like a streak again.  I set up my chair, and it was breezy in the shade just off the tow-path.  David showed up again soon, and we all hung out for a while.  There are worse ways to spend a day than catching up with friends and waiting for other friends and helping people.  Seriously was in my element.  And when you see another runner having it rough, you help them.  And you see other crew there, and they offer your runner things, or offer you a chair, or a beer...

Refreshing!

It was sprinkling slightly, which was lovely and cooled the runners down briefly  Shawn's runner came through, and he left soon after so he could beat him back to the start.  Rose was not far behind.  She had no pain, and was moving nice and steady at around 4 miles per hour.  She said she had eaten some salted potatoes, but was hot and thirsty.  I asked her if she liked frozen lemonade.  She said yes, and was off. 

I made a couple stops for Tim Horton's frozen lemonade and Ritz crackers and a few other things, iced tea, ginger ale, gum.  Back to the start, where I found the canopy tent upside down.  I muscled it back into place, then walked over to use the bathroom.  It was upside down again when I got back.  I realized that the sides of the canopy were acting like a kite, so I undid the sides - they flapped in the wind, but let the wind through, so that it didn't end up in the canal.  David was back shortly, and we rolled the sides up, and waited.

Rose on the far side of the canal - the runners could see the start/finish area from over there, but still had about 2 miles from that point

We saw Rose across the canal, which means we would see her in about 30 minutes.  We got stuff all ready for her.  When she arrived she was feeling ok - and sucked down the frozen lemonade.  She still wasn't eating much, and was drinking ok.  She was used to shorter distances and just not eating much during them.  She had a couple of potatoes and some pickles, and we doctored her feet and a few other issues.

Her feet with the Leukotape were still feeling great, but she wanted to add some to her heels and the balls of her feet, as wall as reinforce the tape on her toes.  I tried to tell her she needed to eat and drink more, that she was already behind and it would be worse later.  She rolled out of the aid station before 5 oclock, 25 miles down, 75 to go!  David stayed at the start/finish.  He'd be pacing his runner, Rhonda, once she came in from the first loop, and getting her through the next 25 miles.

Looking and feeling good!

Shawn's other half, Angelia was at the race, and it was good to catch up with her.  I hadn't seen the two of them since last summer, so getting to hang out for a bit of extended time was great.  I got ready to head back to Orangeport(I was still mistakenly calling it Orangeburg at times).  More waiting, more helping, more visiting.  Rose was still looking good, but was getting frustrated that nothing sounded good to eat.  I had picked up another frozen lemonade for her, and we got her in and out of our sneaky aid station, and I went to Middleport.  I had forgotten to give Rose her lights for the next leg, but Shawn and Angelia said they would bike and get it to her.  It wasn't dark yet, but I was worried she'd be caught in the dark if she slowed.

Sunset at Middleport

I got back to Middleport, just in time to meet Rog and help him fill up his water and give him a couple of different gels from my personal stash.  He was fired up, but was also cramping and wanted to be done.  He was on his way!  

I ended up chatting with a couple of other crewpeople for a while, before Rose came in.  She still looked great, and decided on a shoe change.  She was unsure if they would still feel good by the time she went 12.5 miles back to the start and her other shoes.  I had been planning on heading back to the start/finish to rest up a bit before my pacing duties, but I said I would take the shoes she had been wearing to the sneaky Orangeport locale, just in case.  

Rose had been wearing vibrams (the toe shoes) for the first 37.5 miles of the race, and her feet needed a bit of a break.  

She drank a bunch, but her appetite was zilch.  She ate a few potato chips.  I told her she should to get a gel down - I made her drink some gingerale, offered her crackers, candy, but she was worried other stuff would make her throw up.  I walked her down the trail a bit, snapped a photo of her, then she was was gone. 
37.5 miles down!

See you in Orangeburgport!

I had been not feeling hungry most of the day, but it was 8:30, the sun was going down, and I wanted something to eat.  Another runner's crew member had talked about an Arbys, but the idea of driving too far away from the course made me nervous.  I decided on Timmies again.

Timmies was still open, and it said it served breakfast all day.  That sounded good.  I went to order a breakfast sandwich, and the (very hard to hear) drive through lady said somethng that sounded like "pmmphfphbophfrsree"  Ohhhh.  Buy one get one free!  Sure!  I know some hungry people.  I also got myself a frozen lemonade.

Back at Orangeport, Shawn and Angelia were there, and Shawn gratefully accepted the extra breakfast sandwhich, and as the world got darker, we visited a while, then Angelia got going, since she needed to get home to their puppy and worked the next day.  Shawn realized he had left headlamps in the car, so I loaned them mine, since I knew Angelia could drop it back off at the start for me, and I would see Shawn next aid station

The other member of Shawn's runner's crew, Ian, showed up, and the three of us had a great time just chatting. Mike, Shawn's runner, came in, looking vague, and Rose was right behind him.  Her feet felt fine, but she still wasn't eating. We filled her water bottles, and she was off.  Back to the start.

The Subaru Forester makes a nice little portable aid station.

It was about 10:15 as I approached the start/finish area, and I saw some flashes.  Uh oh.  Thunderstorm?  That would make running in the night a bit more frightening.  Another flash - Reddish.  Then white, then blue... what?!    Oooohhh.. Fireworks!  Neat!  I pulled into the marina area just as the finale went off, and unbeknownst to me, Rog had just made a sub 12 hour 50 mile finish.  I just missed him.  

I was sleepy.  I got all my running stuff on.  I greased myself up against chafing.  I taped my feet.  I found the light Angelia left back at our area. I filled my water bottles, I sat in a chair and leaned back to doze.  

The wave of homesickness caught me like a hand around my throat all of a sudden. I missed my son, I missed my dogs, I missed my bed.  I take a deep breath, I try to shake it off.  At this point - it's dark. The Aid station is lit up like a holiday tree, but a little bit away from the aid station, people are nothing but moving lights, or shadows, or little bits of reflective tape on clothing, a flashing led.  I see a form come towards me, and I figure it's Shawn.  Ok.  Deep breath.  That closes off my panicky home-sickness attack.  Shawn says he saw Rose and her lights were out of battery, so he finds some batteries for us that he had, and I get ready for Rose.  

I set an alarm for 30 minutes, thinking I should have that long to doze.  I close my eyes again.  Homesickness and missing my son starts to close around me again, and the phone on my chest vibrates.. It's Rose!

She sounds like she's in tears.  She hurts, she has horrible stomach cramps and she wants to be done. The homesickness sizzles away like a drop of water on a burner.  

I try to calm her down over the phone.  The Heed/water mix is turning her stomach. She says she's almost back, she's just made the turn back towards us.  It's just midnight.  I grab some plain ice water and jog down the trail.  I drop my extra headlamp. I drop my keys. I fumble things, curse myself, and tighten, fasten, and take a breath, then run.

Rose is nearly doubled over,  she sips some water.  We just walk.  She's ready to drop.  I tell her, lets get back, sit for a bit, then she can decide.  I know that if she feels better in 10 minutes, she'll regret dropping.

We get back, we rest, but it's not getting better.  We go to the start.  

....

Confidentially, I've only paced and crewed a couple of times.  I did ok. I learned a lot. I've been running ultra's for 7 years now.  I still feel like a novice.  When it comes to heat and hydration, to stomach issues, cramps, I'm not sure what to do.  I'm not a hard-ass.  I can't force someone to eat or drink. I can't force someone to throw up to see if that helps.  I can't force someone to keep going, when I don't think I would keep going myself.  But I gave myself three times to try to convince her to keep going, and after that, I was on her side to quit.

Rose stopped running with 50 miles under her belt.  She was feeling amazing in her body, except for her stomach.  I think the lack of water just shut down her guts, and her body said no more.

I've stopped running for less concerning reasons.  Rose was right to stop.  She was tearful and regretful for my coming so far, and not getting to run.  

I said to her, "If I were there, in that seat, having to drop because I felt so terrible, and you had been crewing me all day, would you be upset, or disappointed?  Would you blame me?"  

We all have our good and bad days, and I loved nearly every minute of my crewing duties at the Beast of Burden.  And I would do it again.  And if my next runner drops, I will still do it again.  Ultra running isn't always about running.  We do it for the connection, for the outdoors.  And maybe a little for the food and beer.

So here I am.  Home.  Back to planet earth.  But book me a seat on that next ride to the Ultra-side.  I'm a bit of an outsider here in this place of a little less shoes, and a little less sweat and tears, and a little less sky.

I will get back there soon.  See you there.

3 comments:

Rose Carr said...

I cannot express the depth of my gratitude for everything you did for me at this race. You are the perfect person to have in my corner, and no one has taken better care of me. Thank you for everything!

Sean said...

Nicely written, as ever.

I was there to pace a mate through back end of his hundo there a few years ago, an he was beat-up before I got to him. I have no intention of ever doing that race. Timing (start, and the season) is all wrong (for me), and the exposure... ugh.

Great place to train, however.

Look forward to seeing you soon. And don't worry, Rose. Rest up, and think about evening up the ledger when you're ready...

piperrenee5d said...

I loved reading this!! It's the comradery in the ultra community that keeps me running (or mostly walking in my case!!) the races!! It's definitely not for the sweat, muscle cramps, adductor spasms (hello!)and blisters!! If I ever decide to do a hundred miler, I'm calling you first!! Thanks for writing this! I love your writing style, it makes me feel like I was right there beside you!!